Posted in from one town to the next - live shows

with Shannon Corey at World Cafe Live, Philadelphia PA

so, no – we’d never met. certainly not in person, anyway. we exchanged a few emails and texts, she sent me some tracks to learn, but no phone calls or anything like that. we met for the first time when i showed up at her apartment a couple of hours before the gig to run through the songs for the set.

so in that regard, my debut with shannon corey really was a blind date in some respects.

we’d exchanged some thoughts about instrumentation and what her expectations were on the few songs that i was to play on (all on mandolin, making this one of the lightest load-ins i’ve had in a long time), so i listened to the songs to figure out what key they were in and to see if there were any hooks or licks that i’d need to learn that were integral to the song, and got ready to head over to shannon’s apartment to run through the set with our cellist (and one of the dudes who recommended me for the gig), michael ronstadt.

soundcheck...
soundcheck at world cafe live...michael ronstadt on cello with shannon corey.

now, what i didn’t realize was that it was essentially just the three of us, musically – but two of the cuts were acoustic guitar songs, and it never occured to me to think that somebody wouldn’t be covering that part – i just assumed that shannon doubled on guitar and piano.

but, noooooooo.

as it turns out, not only did she not play guitar, but she didn’t cover those parts with piano, either. so it’d be up to michael and myself to execute those songs with the cello and the mandolin. which meant that i actually had to learn the songs. like, now.

i was ok with two of them, but one of them, doing fine, actually had a descending guitar part that i’d have to replicate on the mando…i listened to it a couple of times through, and we worked it out. it wasn’t difficult, i just had to memorize the arrangement and make sure i had my signposts in place.

so michael got there and we ran through everything a couple of times and got ready to head to the venue.

shannon was opening for a guy named jon mclaughlin – who i’d assumed was the jazz guitarist, but as it turns out, there’s a kid with the same name whos’ apparently garnered enough notoriety to be playing a 700-capacity room in a major urban area. just another little nudge from father time to let me know that i’m not a kid anymore. 🙂

i was a little concerned going in, as i’m not entirely sure that they were expecting the number of musicians that would be showing up for this gig in the opening slot…but turk, the soundguy at WCL is a buddy of mine, and if there were any concerns or problems with our lineup, they didn’t convey them to us. the headliner was touring as a duo, and the stage was pretty sparse…so it make soundcheck a pleasure for all of us. i love the monitors in the downstairs room at WCL – i don’t know for sure if they’re clair brothers boxes or not, but they sound like they very well may be – some of the best monitors i’ve ever heard have been on clair brothers stages, and these boxes look almost exactly like the signature shape of clair monitor fills. guess i should ask Turk about that next time i’m there.

so, soundcheck finished, all there was to do was wait – which is, generally speaking, customary. but in this scenario, it essentially served as time for shannon to work herself into a frenzy – she was wound pretty tightly by the time we were to walk onstage. not sure, specifically, what to attest that to…as i don’t really know her that well (as noted earlier), so i just took my mental notes with me onstage and tried to execute the tunes as best as i could, under the circumstances.

the show itself seemed to go pretty well – nothing stood out in my mind, where glaring errors or such were concerned. and she seemed genuinely happy with the way it had gone after we were finished, so – alls’ well that ends well. after the show, i had a few minutes to catch up with my buddy josh hisle and his friend dan collins, who were there for the show – it was good to see JH, as i hadn’t seen him in ages…nice to meet dan, as well.

so…in the end…client happy, show solid, no parking tickets, home relatively early – win/win. 🙂

Posted in music and the music business, rants - political and otherwise

how do ya get to carnegie hall?

just a short note from the unsolicited advice department here at tomhampton.com, for you aspiring guitarists out there – and in here, as well…

it’s extremely important for any aspiring musician to learn to recognize the difference between studying your instrument, practicing your instrument, and playing your instrument.

this is a distinction that is easily lost on newcomers, and often overlooked by intermediate players as well…but it’s hard to become an advanced player without eventually coming to terms with the differences between the three.

some of you probably aren’t crazy about the idea of thinking of your instrument as something that you have to study, but the form of study that you apply to your instrument doesn’t have to be purely academic. you may also be one of the many players who tends to confuse the study of your instrument with the concept of practice, but the two are actually separate and independent of one another.

the study of your instrument consists strictly of gathering new information about it. when you learn something new from watching a video on YouTube, or seeing another player live, or reading something on the internet, this qualifies as study. anytime you’re gathering information, it can be considered study.

when you take that information and apply it to your instrument, it can be debatable to some whether that should be considered study or practice, but for the purposes of our discussion, practice should be considered as the process of taking information that you currently possess about your instrument and learning to apply it in a playing environment. this means that you’re taking those rudiments and scales that you’ve already learned and you’re running through them to reinforce them in your mind, and you’re also working on your physical technique to improve the means by which you actually play your instrument. speed, accuracy, and fluidity aren’t born into the vast majority of us, and improving those qualities takes a degree of repetition to hone them, and to push our personal envelopes past our comfort zone.

a healthy (but not necessarily exclusive) regimen of study and practice are vitally important to you as a player if you want to continually grow and improve. when a player constantly practices the things he already knows, the only opportunity he’s really giving himself is to become better at executing the things he already knows – and there’s a brick wall waiting at the end of that path. conversely, you can study your instrument, gather information about it, learn new things about it – but if you don’t take the time to work on incorporating that information into your vocabulary as a player, then that information only exists as random academia in your brain, and not in the muscles that control your instrument.

your ultimate goal in finding a balance of these two activities should be in cultivating the ability to take your instrument into a gig or a session or any other performance situation and be able to call upon this stream of new information when you play.

you’ve likely heard it said before – when you strap in and get ready to do this for real, the best work you’ll ever do is when your brain is switched off and you’re relying on your internal wiring to send the signals back and forth without fully realized instructions from your conscious thought processes. if you’ve done the necessary work to gather information about the instrument (study), apply that information to your personal ability as a player and have repeated it enough times to commit it to your vocabulary (through practice), you’ll find that it’s not really necessary to expend a lot of attention towards your actual technique when you’re playing with your band or cutting a track for a session.

i don’t know much, but i do know that – without a doubt – one of the best things about being a musician is that moment of euphoria that occurs when something flies off your fingers that amazes you as much as anyone else who might have heard it…and leaves you wondering where the hell it came from.

you may not always know specifically where it came from…but if you strike the right balance of study and practice, you’ll at least know why it came.

Posted in the session log

Session Log: Jayda Hampton vocal overdubs for “Avalon”

our motto....
even now, i STILL don't believe it....

so i got a panicked call from dean sciarra – not even a full three days after we wrapped up tracking…just like new was… “too country”.

yeah.

so after i finally figured out that he wasn’t joking, i asked him exactly what it was that he was trying to say – because it is, after all, largely a country song…root-five bass line, shuffle beat and all. “it’s too twangy,” he says. “we need to fix that.”

uhmmmm…ok.

now, let me clarify a bit – what dean was actually trying to convey was that the arrangement of the guitars on the track were taking the song off the edge of the dwight yoakam cliff. what i’d done – which, admittedly, was different than what i typically do when we play the song live – was to play the baritone guitar with a pick, very close to the bridge, and essentially play the alternating bass notes, a la pete anderson or john jorgensen…and i thought it was great, and everybody else seemed to like it at the time – and it wasn’t that far afield of what we’d been doing with the song in a live setting. so, hey – mix it and put it to bed, right?

well, that’s what i thought…but when dean and phil nicolo put it up in the mix room, dean couldn’t put his finger on what it was that he didn’t like, but he knew there was something amiss. so i went in with no idea whatsoever what he wanted, but prepared – hopefully – to try and give him what he wanted.

as it turns out, the order wasn’t as tall as i thought it was.

we pulled the baritone out altogether, and replaced it in the mix with some electric twelve string, and dean was thrilled. i also added the 12 string, and some chords on the gretsch to avalon…everything worked out about as well as one could’ve expected.

another satisfied customer. 🙂

so the only thing left – other than whatever incidental overdubs that might come to light – were harmonies. i had cut a bunch of my parts before i left for the pure prairie league gig i was playing on friday night, and i figured i was finished. dean had brought in someone to replicate the female harmony part on black yodel on the same night that i’d come in to work on the guitar touch-ups, but it wasn’t going well – she was suffering from a sinus infection, and – if the truth be told – the part was at the very upper end of her range. she’d also spent a few hours that afternoon practicing her part, and probably didn’t do any favors for herself in the process, what with being sick and all.

jayda and company...
Left to Right: Dean Sciarra, Phil Nicolo, Jayda Hampton, JD Malone

so – this being the case and all, i told dean that i’d bring jayda by the studio the next morning if she were able to come, and we could give her a crack at it. after all, she sang the song live more times than i could remember, and i knew that – if nothing else – she was at least in the ballpark from the standpoint of her vocal range. the worst that could happen would be that she’d come in, have a case of the nerves or would otherwise exhibit some sort of shortcoming that would keep her from executing the part in the studio, and we’d move on. if it wasn’t working, we’d call it before it spiralled out of control and move on to mixing and figure something else out.

jayda had some experience in the studio, but mostly on a homegrown level – doing vocals on songs self-produced by friends in high school and the like. and she’d been in and around studios with me in the past, so i didn’t think it’d be uncomfortable for her – although i’d be willing to spot her a bit of a case of the nerves.

as it turned out, none of that was the case.

we got to the studio at around 10am…phil was ready to start cutting vocals at around 10:15 or so – and black yodel was done…finished – at 11 o’clock. in fact, they ended up having her sing on three more tracks – avalon, the renamed leave us alone, and her personal favorite song, sweet evil things. she may have put vocals on another, in fact, but i can’t remember now…it flew by pretty quickly.

while she was in the vocal booth cutting her harmony part for leave us alone, dean said to me, “does she play guitar? does she play an instrument at all?” he was mightily impressed…in fact, i wouldn’t be a bit surprised if jayda ends up making a record herself after that experience.

the only other thing that had really bothered me – from an instrumental standpoint – was the pedal steel part that they’d decided to use for leave us alone…it was a part that i’d played to be a supporting part to the rhythmic mandolin part that normally rose to the top there when jd and i played it live, but during mixdown it appeared that they decided that the pedal steel should be the featured instrument during that part. it’s not so much that it was a bad part…it just wasn’t much of an attention-keeper when you put it out front. so we punched in a new part at the solo section and ran it out to the end:

 

it was a better fit…not too busy, but not too lazy, either. and it was the last thing actually cut for the record…it’s all down to mixing at this point.

Posted in from one town to the next - live shows

with Pure Prairie League at Carlisle Theater, Carlisle PA

i say it a lot, and it’s true – i don’t really get nervous for gigs anymore.

well…mostly.

this gig, i was a sweatin’ just a little.

anytime i get to play with someone whos’ been an influence, a hero, someone that i’ve been listening to since a time when i couldn’t have really foreseen becoming what i’ve ultimately become – there’s a little bit of that nervous energy goin’ on.

especially when i know i’m going to be called on to do something that’s not one of my strong suits.

mike reilly from pure prairie league has become a friend over the past couple of years, and we’d talked about my sitting in with them for one or more of the shows on this run through central pennsylvania they were doing – but, as it had turned out, i had a show on saturday night with craig bickhardt, and when the opportunity to get jd malone into the studio with phil nicolo to do this record between phils’ stints on the road, that ruled out the possibility of the previous night’s show in scranton/wilkes-barre, too – so we were left with the carlisle show, a double-bill with the firefall guys – which once again included david muse, back out on the road again after some health problems that sidelined him for a while.

in discussing the setlist with mike, he’d mentioned that he’d like to have me play mandolin on two of the songs – pickin’ to beat the devil, and i’ll fix your flat tire, merle. now, i’ve never focused a lot of attention on my mandolin playing – it’s always been something of a secondary instrument for me, because i’ve never been in a position to have to lean on my skills in that department. well, now i needed to step up my game a little.

so, with plenty of notice, i figured i’d better brush up a bit and work on this a little…both of those songs were uptempo bluegrass-flavored numbers, and i figured i’d better work something out for those songs beforehand as opposed to hoping that i’d be visited by the ghost of bill monroe at the last minute or something.

well…i learned something very important about myself in the process, lemme tell ya.

now, a lot of you know that i’m left handed. if you didn’t, now you do. you may also be realizing, as i bring this up, that i play every instrument that i play in the traditional right-handed fashion. when i started out on drums as a young pup, i played drums the same way – right-handed. i did that for a couple of reasons…one being that every drummer i knew was right-handed, including the drummers that i saw at shows and on TV, and i wanted to be like them. as i started learning guitar, it was the same thing – i never had a formal teacher, so the people i was learning from were all right-handed, and i just thought it looked funny to play guitar left-handed…hendrix, paul mccartney, dan seals, the dude from air supply – not taking anything away from any of them, but the notion of trying to play guitar left-handed just didn’t appeal to me at all.

and besides – the thing that occurred to me then that’s stayed with me for all the years since was that, when holding the guitar in the normal fashion, isn’t your left hand doing the most complex work? i was certain that the fretting hand would need to be the hand that you were most adept with, and i thought everybody else had it wrong. in all these years, playing all these different instruments, playing right-handed as a lefty has never been an obstacle to me.

that is, until i started working on my mandolin picking technique.

i figured there had to be some trick, some shortcut, some technique i could practice to get that thing down, right? i mean, i’ve been playing mandolin for a long time, but i’ve never put myself in the position to get serious about perfecting that particular technique because…well, i haven’t needed to.

this gig, though – in particular, these songs – would require that i be able to play mandolin that way…with a degree of right-hand speed that i hadn’t ever really had to call on before.

well, ok…no big deal, right? i’ll just practice…when…well, when exactly?

between the studio schedule working on JD’s record, putting in my hours during the day at work, and making sure that my son would still recognize me when i walk through the door – well, that left late at night after everyone had gone to bed for a couple of days leading up to the start of the work on JD’s record, but not much else.

hey – i at least had the fact that both songs were in A going for me (easiest mandolin key EVER). whether that’d be enough or not remained to be seen.

so, after wrapping up overdubs on JD’s record and loading into the car to head to Carlisle for the show, i entertained thoughts of asking wendy to drive so i could at least run some scales and loosen up, but it was rainy and somewhat miserable out, and i didn’t want to burden her with driving in the weather as it was…and besides, i was gonna need to spin the wheels pretty quickly to get there in time for soundcheck, so i drove myself.

when we got to the theater, i spotted jon rosenbaum unloading merchandise from his car and taking it into the lobby – so we went inside and said hello before heading down into the room, where the firefall guys were already in the middle of soundcheck. i walked down and chatted with sandy, bill and steve for a bit before bumping into a newly short-haired david muse, whos’ looking and sounding good after returning to the band not too terribly long ago.

the PPL boys started trickling in not too long afterward, and we slid right into soundcheck after the firefall boys had finished up…i was originally only going to sit in on the two mandolin songs, but they extended an invite to play acousstic on anything else i was comfortable with playing on…so i ended up playing about 80 percent of the set. they opened with tears and kansas city southern, and i came out for early mornin’ riser and stayed up until let me love you tonight and came back for six feet of snow and stayed through the rest of the show.

so how did the mandolin thing work out, you ask?

well…ok. not great, not awful, but passable. i learned a few things about my approach, working up to this gig…in terms of what pick i should be using, what posture works best for me, and the like. i’ve built up my right hand speed significantly since starting to work on it, but i’m still a ways away from being the tremolo picker that i’d like to be. and, other than the combination adrenalin-and-holyshitness of the moment, i think i did a decent job. 🙂

and – there’s something of an open invite to come back and do it again, so that’s always nice to know. the guys in the band are such great musicians, and i got to stand next to john david call all night long and watch him play…that alone is worth the extra hours of mandolin practice.

Posted in yesterday. today. tomorrow.

david phillips: 1940 – 2011

we all get older. and someday, like it or not, there’ll come a day when we won’t be here anymore.

(yes, this is gonna be one of those missives. sorry.)

this past april fools’ day, another person who was – pardon the crappy pun – instrumental in shaping my life went to go rest high on that mountain.

with david phillips at the counter of maxines' house of music on a rare visit to my hometown...

david phillips (no relation or connection to the NJ/PA chain of stores) ran a tiny, no-frills music store in savannah, tennessee with his wife, maxine – called, appropriately enough, maxine’s house of music. i can still tell you the phone number from memory…925-9687. i can also recite their home phone number, but we’ll skip that for obvious reasons. david also taught math at the junior high school in my hometown.

he had an easy laugh, and a kind heart, and had the patience to endure endless questions about musical instruments from a destitute kid, the oldest child of a single welfare mother, who had an abundance of passion and not much else. when that kid decided to take up the drums and managed to cobble together enough cash to buy the remnants of a kit from a friend, david practically gave him a couple of cracked cymbals and pieces of stands so that he could piece the rest of the kit together and forge something playable from it. when he needed a snare drum, david found an old 13″ blue sparkle slingerland snare in the back of the store and sold it to the kid for less than it was worth.

it wasn’t the first time he’d do something like that for the kid, either.

when the teenaged boy’s family needed to go into town for anything, he’d ask to be dropped off at the store, to talk to david…to stare at the instruments in the store…to read catalogs and daydream.

when that same kid decided to try to build a functioning guitar in shop class that year, he brought in a couple of guitars with bolt-on necks that were otherwise broken and let the kid take one of the necks for his shop project…and didn’t ask for a dime. he also welcomed him to stop by his classroom with the work in progress as he was building it, and offered tips and encouragement the whole time.

when the kid practiced enough on his patchwork drums to get to the point that he was good enough for a real kit, david co-signed a note at the bank with the kid so that he could buy a set of 1965 red sparkle slingerlands that would allow him to move up the ladder without having to worry about, explain, or be ashamed of his gear. later, when he’d paid the note down with money he earned playing those drums with one of the best bands within miles of his hometown, david co-signed again to add a set of zildjian cymbals to the note.

he endured countless phone calls from the kid, at home in the evening, who’d just been reading magazines that david had given him and wanted to know what the difference was between the pickups in a les paul and the pickups in a fender stratocaster…was it just the pickups that made them sound so different from one another? what kind of amp makes that sound? questions that a seasoned musician could have potentially found annoying, bothersome, or a waste of time – but david seemed to realize, innately, that everybody had to start somewhere, and he never balked at sharing what he knew.

he could’ve told that kid to keep reading his magazines and catalogs and keep listening and do his homework, and get the answers for himself…or he could’ve called the kids’ mom and asked her to gently ask her son to refrain from calling him at home after school. or he could’ve just told the kid himself, in no uncertain terms, that he needed to rein it in and leave him alone.

to the best of my knowledge, it never crossed his mind. if the kids’ constant questioning ever bothered him in the least, he certainly never showed it.

it sounds like melodrama to say that the kid in this story would almost certainly have died or ended up in prison had it not been for the changes in his life that he was able to make as a result of david’s encouragement and patience…but you’d have to know more about the place where he grew up than you could possibly absorb from a secondhand account. you’d have to know what a hard place a small town can be underneath the sleepy exterior.

but thanks to david phillips, the kid had enough insight to recognize the gift he had – whatever talent he might’ve had would’ve certainly withered otherwise. he would’ve ended up working in a factory that would’ve long since closed by now, and would have most likely discovered the same addictions that ultimately brought down his father – and if he were still here at all, he certainly wouldn’t be the subject of a very pretty picture.

instead, he’s sitting at his computer, late for a recording session that’s been sandwiched into his only night off in a string of two weeks straight…working on three albums simultaneously, with another one sitting on the shelf once these three are done. he just did a show last weekend with a band that he grew up idolizing, sitting in with them on mandolin for most of their set, and is leaving in two days to do another show with a band that’s also cobbled together by personal heroes of his. he’s managed to carve a life for himself from the talent that God gave him…but that would have gone neglected had it not been for the fact that his path crossed early on with someone like david phillips.

rest in peace, david.  the world has always been a better place for me, even across this distance, just knowing that you were here.

and know that you were loved, and you’ll be missed.

 

(view david’s obituary here…)

Posted in the session log

Session Log: JD Malone and the Experts – the making of AVALON

almost immediately after our sold out show at steel city back in february, dean sciarra from ItsAboutMusic came up to me in full rave mode, talking about how much he loved the show, and the band…well, dean is a man who believes in putting his money where his mouth is, and within weeks, he’d hatched plans with jd malone to start work on a new full-length album, and had booked time at one of (in my opinion) one of the top two or three studios in the philadelphia area, phil nicolo’s studio four. dean’s philosophy was to record the band live in the studio – to have us set up in something of a semi-circle and play as if we were onstage, essentially.

now, this is not a novel idea by any stretch…in fact, it’s been an objective of producers and engineers since the dawn of the medium – to try and capture that raw energy and electricity of a live performance. the failure to do so has been an impediment to some pretty amazing bands – a lot of folks still believe to this day that the inability to capture the electricity of a Buffalo Springfield show on vinyl was a major contributor to their early demise (me, i tend to subscribe to the “everything happens for a reason” ethos – which is to say that had they not burned out when they did, there’d have been no CSNY or Poco, so i’m somewhat ok with it all…)

while i didn’t want to piss in dean’s cornflakes by telling him that it was highly unlikely that he’d be the one to succeed where so many have failed, i did see an opportunity to possibly get a great live-sounding product from his approach…and remembering that one of my all-time favorite albums was recorded in the same manner – and in roughly the same timeframe (john hiatt‘s bring the family) – i certainly wasn’t going to rail against the methodology, because i was pretty sure that we could end up with something pretty amazing if we were all on the same page.

(for those not in the know, the “bring the family” album was recorded and mixed in four or five days…it featured hiatt’s songs recorded by the quartet of john hiatt, ry cooder, nick lowe and jim keltner – and it’s been hailed in the years since its’ recording as the crown jewel of hiatt’s recorded output. it really is that good…especially for a weeks’ work.)

now, factored into our three-day musical orgy was a video shoot and a photo shoot, both spread over two of the three days we were scheduled to be in the studio…so we really had our work cut out for us to get all this music committed to tape in the time alloted.

day one – video killed the studio star

studio four....
my world for the few days of tracking "Avalon" at studio 4

i had arranged to load in some of my gear the night before, during dean’s walkthrough, and i brought the lions’ share of the toys i’d be using on the record in that night…lap steels, a dobro and a weissenborn, 12 string electric, my jaguar baritone custom, a danelectro 3-pickup model, the banjo, my road mandolin…and a few other things as well. for amps, i brought the princeton as an alternative sound, but we set up the ’57 gibson GA-20T in the iso booth – and it was the right choice. 🙂

i had thought about bringing my own pedal steel in, but phil had a carter that was already there, so i used his – mine has been nothing but a black cloud in the sessions i’ve used it for, and i was thankful to have an option other than that one for this project. i really have to make replacing that thing a priority.

so, initially, we were setting up to record live versions of several of the songs for the camera crew that were onsite. everyone made it in early enough to set up in the prerequisite semi-circle (where we’d remain for the rest of the week, as it turned out) and we started dialing in our headphone mixes on phil’s semi-custom headphone mix-stations. as the camera crew got their bearings, we flew through a handful of songs just to loosen up – one of them being the cover of tom petty‘s i should’ve known it that we’ve been doing live for a little while now. as it turns out, both tape and video were rolling for that one, and they ended up not only taping it for video, but including the accompanying audio track on the album…along with several of the other live versions that we recorded that afternoon.
 

at that point, the rest of the video shoot went by pretty quickly – we also did i think it was a monday (which didn’t make the cut for the album, but ended up on the video and crept in as a live cut), as well as several of the other songs that we did end up cutting in the traditional sense for the record.

one of the things that i found interesting about phil’s approach to recording the band in the live setting was that he chose to place avery’s amp alongside mine in the ISO booth – mine was in the corner behind the door, and averys’ was on the other side of the room, facing in toward mine. at first, it didn’t make sense…but when i thought about it, and considered the SPL (sound pressure levels) involved between the two, it made sense that you wouldn’t have one leaking into the other, because you’d have to pad the inputs to the point that leakage would be almost a non-factor once you had both channels’ levels optimized.

this phil guy…he knows a thing or two.

we rounded out the video shoot in the early afternoon and started recording in earnest after we all came back from dinner – ready and rarin’ to go. there was a tangible energy around these sessions on all three days, but the excitement was particularly tangible on day one…dean’s choice of studio for this project was damn near perfect. phil’s enthusiasm was contagious, and like most really good producers, he knows how to get the best performance out of his subjects.

day two – say cheeeessseee…or, the birth of the cape may shuffle

avery coffee – there’s just something wrong with that guy.

look – it’s about time i publicly admitted it – avery is one of my favorite onstage foils. he and i compliment one another in a way that’s pretty much perfect for this particular band. our playing styles are dissimilar enough that we couldn’t step on one another if we actually made an effort to do so, and he’s so tasteful and conscious of what’s going on in the arrangements that he’s almost as dangerous for what he doesn’t play as he is when he opens up the volume and starts peeling the paint off the walls. strictly as a guitarist, avery would blow me through a brick wall like a giant pitcher of kool-aid…but the way we both approach this thing, it’s never been about the headcutting aspect – because we both know and respect our contribution to the band as a whole. i genuinely love playing with the guy.

but…and yeah, you knew there was a but coming…

it’s at times like day two of this endeavor that i don’t know if my not-so-secret mancrush on avery is because of our musical bond…or because of the shit that he pulls during gigs and sessions and the like.

we came in relatively early and started recording while photographer joe tutlo took candids during the sessions…and at some point during recording, avery launched into a pseudo-drunken firehall dance step that we almost immediately christened “the cape may shuffle”…since avery attributed the step to his mom, it seemed only fitting. the whole thing started to snowball during the course of the sessions, until everyone in the live room had done it at some point or another. it was just one of a perpetual parade of Averyisms that lasted the whole week.

day two was the longest of the lot…for me, anyway. i understand that day three went long as well, but i left early for a gig, so i missed out on the overdubs and vocal tracks that were cut in the afternoon into the evening on friday…but i think the work on thursday probably made finishing on friday possible for the lot of us.

some of the highlights of thursday included the remake of emmitt meets a demon…a song JD had not only already recorded, but had been the first of his songs to have a video done for it (although, it has to be said – from a conceptual standpoint, it couldn’t be a further leap from the subject matter of the song if it tried…).

we’d played emmitt live only a handful of times…it never seemed to grow legs live, and ultimately we retired it at some point. dean wanted us to record it again, though, and we were all game to give it another shot.

the challenge of the song is that it never really moves from the E form that it starts on…the whole song essentially sits on top of a riff that lives in E, and it doesn’t really veer off that pattern for the whole song. so the challenge lies in making the song interesting for the seven minutes or so that it lasts, in spite of the repetitive nature of the tune.

what we ended up doing was running the song once, with the entire band playing…and then taking it back to the top and having AC and i overdub our respective instruments over the track that we’d just done. another stroke of nicolo genius, as it was exactly what the song needed to add the elements to it that we’d left out on the first pass….for me, i’d been married to the riff that the whole song rides on from the top all the way out – so i got to add some fills alongside the riff, as well as some rotary-speaker swells and the like underneath what he’d already done.

avery…well, avery just lost his mind on the second pass. some pretty unreal sounds comin’ from that dude.

day three – the half-day.

it was a known factor that i wasn’t available for the full day, this last day of tracking – i was going to carlisle, PA to sit in with pure prairie league for their show at the carlisle theater with firefall, so i needed to get whatever work done that i could as early as possible. and, since wendy and danny were coming along, they came along to the studio for a quick morning visit and then headed off to ikea to do some shopping while we wrapped up.

one of my favorite songs, man with a worry, hadn’t made the original list of songs to cut, and since we’d all convened early enough, i put it on the table that we at least give it a shot – so we ran it once, and then took the second pass (i think it was)…and once we’d cut it, it was an easy sell. i played mandolin on the first pass, but left the break open for a potential overdub.
 


 

dan may stopped in for a short visit during the sessions on friday, as well – as we were cutting a cover version of “fortunate son”. avery and i played a harmony duet pattern on the solo section, and then traded bars on the tag, joining up for a line at the very end of the song.

then we moved on to overdubs – the dobro solo on black yodel, the lap steel solo on emerald lake that will probably become my favorite contribution to the whole record, and some vocal harmonies as well. wendy got there with the little man before dan left, and everybody got a chance to visit a bit before we had to jump in the car and tear down the turnpike towards carlisle. i took what i needed for the gig with me – an acoustic guitar and a mandolin – and planned on stopping back in to retrieve what i’d need from the studio stash for my gig with craig bickhardt the night after.

it’s hard to believe that we got as much done in two and a half days as we’d managed to do…avery and jd stayed for overdubs after we left, and jd worked well into the night with phil to fine-tune and/or recut whatever vocals needed attention. there’ll be overdubs afterward during mixing, i’m sure, but we didn’t leave much on the to-do list.